After riding to Ojai from Ventura for the fourth time, it is still very hard to believe that such beauty and serenity can be found 20 miles away. On this return trip for my MeetUp group for the month of February it still did not disappoint. Ojai holds a special place for many of us in the MeetUp as this was the official kick off tour of the group last February. Similar to last year’s tour, we had a good mix of people who joined us. Some enjoyed it so much last year that they made a return this year.
Everyone met at the Ventura Amtrak Station the morning of February 6th. The parking lot, which is normally deserted, was bustling with activity as the Ventura Convention Center was hosting a gun show for the weekend. We were able to park for free when we mentioned we were there for the Amtrak. 3 riders were already there when both Sang Hyun and I arrived. We waited for a few more riders and eventually left the parking lot close to noon. We had our first milestone for the MeetUp when our first child joined with his dad, Scott, on our tour. It was a tough ride for him, but he made it up and down the hill to Dennison Park like a champ. Before I jump ahead, let’s review the trip logistics.
2 Roads, 1 Destination
I’ve written and talked enough about Ojai in my previous posts to highlight what the trail is like, so I’ll let you peruse through those posts. For this trip, I wanted to incorporate a “Choose your own adventure” feature where I allow the riders to pick between 2 routes. The main route is a 19 mile ride along the bike path through Ojai up to Dennison Park. This would be an ideal route to be on if you have never ridden to Ojai before. It is safe, gradual, and scenic. The alternate route was something I had done in 2014 with Chris from Topanga Creek Outpost. This was a tougher gravel road using Sulfur Mountain Road. The road pitches up close to 3000 feet as you navigate a wide fire road up and down the mini mountain range until you reach a fantastic paved downhill towards Santa Paula Ojai Road or Highway 150. This road converges right in front of the Dennison Park campgrounds.
Beauty & The Beaten
Luckily, I had 1 taker who chose to ride the off-road path with me, so after our first break at Foster Park, we split off from the group a mile up the road and went our separate ways. Both Mike and I were mesmerized by the beautiful scene of uncommon green hills. The day was hot and the view was clear enough to see the Pacific Ocean in the distance. We were in awe by the beauty around us. This feeling of elation soon faded as the afternoon got hotter and the 2 liters of water we were each carrying disappeared from rehydrating our perspiring bodies.
It was around 4:30ish when we reached the summit of the alternate route. The elevation peaked around 2800 feet. Both Mike and I were exhausted and our legs were cramping as we ended up walking partially up. We were finally rewarded for our efforts with a screaming downhill! By the time we both rolled into camp, it was dusk, and the campgrounds were closed to car traffic. Since we were on bikes, we snuck between the rocks to find our campsites. We were both greeted by our companions at campsite 15 and 16. I ate pretty much anything in front of me; sandwich, cheese, sausages, and processed lentil bean chips (delicious, by the way).
As I regained some energy with my feast of foods, I got to hear bits and pieces of the main group’s ride. They had basically stayed on the route through Ojai Valley Trail until it ended at a shopping center where they all collected their food supplies for the night at the Vons. They then crossed Ojai Ave to continue on the bike path through town. At the end of the trail, on Bryant Street, some of the folks got lost as they tried to find Ojai Ave again. They regrouped and found their way back on the road to the campsite and arrived there close to 4PM that afternoon.
The off-road route added 8 more miles and 2000 more feet of climbing, so we got there 30 minutes later. Mike and I set up our respective home for the night; a tarp, bivvy sack and quilt for him and a tent for me. Our group built a nice fire as everyone got to know each other through illuminating conversations. By the time everyone was ready to go to bed, the time was 9:30PM. I was thoroughly exhausted and fell asleep quickly.
Smooth Sailing Back to Ventura
Half of the group, including myself, woke up at 6:30 the next morning. We set up our breakfast at the day use benches across our campsite, overlooking the Ojai Valley. It was a beautiful and clear morning. Everyone fueled up on their coffee, oatmeal, and pastries that they’d packed. Scott attempted to cook bacon over the barbecue grill with aluminum foil, but that went up in flames as he didn’t account for the fat from the bacon to engulf the entire grill. He was able to salvage about 3 of the 8 pieces of bacon.
Half of our group peeled away to go home using a different route, or they left early to catch the beginning of the Super Bowl game. The remaining 5 left close to 10AM. We essentially rolled down from the campsite all the way into Ventura. I was able to convince the group to visit Ocean Air Cycles in Ventura. My good friend Rob Perks just opened this storefront for almost a year now and builds beautiful Rambler bikes.
We finally got back on the trail which led us back to beautiful Ventura beach. We navigated through a smaller gun show crowd in the parking lot to our cars. In addition to the gun show, there was a go-kart course occupying ⅓ of the parking lot. Unfortunately, one of participant’s car was fenced in the course, but that was easily remedied as we removed the fencing to allow him to drive out. Disaster diverted!
This was absolutely the best way to kick off a year of bike touring for 2016! We couldn’t have asked for better weather, and the two routes were simply stunning and incredible. At this point, I don’t see why this destination wouldn’t be on the schedule for years to come. If you want something to wet your bike touring pallet, I would highly recommend you join us on the next ride up to Ojai or just join us for an upcoming MeetUp. We have one every month.
If you want to do it on your own, here are our route maps, so you can follow along.
Overnight parking is free at the Ventura Amtrak station, or you can jump on an Amtrak to this location and go car free.
Finally, here is the video of our trip!
One more shot before we go…